for violin and piano (1972)

7 min.

28 October 1973
Thomas Moore, violin (Pro Arte Quartet) / David Bishop, piano
Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI

Preview: 29 July 1973
Everett Goodwin, violin / David Bishop, piano
Morphy Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI

Tartini, for violin and piano (1972), was written for Thomas Moore, a member of the Pro Arte Quartet. It employs a twelve-tone row constructed from the melodies that make up the Allegro assai-Andante-Allegro assai movement of Giuseppe Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata in G minor (ca. 1714). I also borrow melodic fragments from that work as well as Tartini's virtuosic technique of juxtaposing two simultaneous voices against an extended trill as countermelody, for which his piece is famous. The "fast-slow-fast" structure of my one-movement work is a miniature representation of the last and more expansive fourth movement of Tartini's sonata. There are also hints in Tartini from Arnold Schoenberg's Phantasy (1949) and Charles Wuorinen's Duo (1967), two works for violin and piano that particularly impressed me as a young composer.

I see Tartini as the first significant work that I wrote as an adult. I started writing music when I was nine but took a hiatus from composing in my late teens due to family pressures to become a lawyer. I didn't become a lawyer, but after finishing an undergraduate degree in English literature I did become a graduate Italian scholar before moving back into music. My studies in English and Italian have had a profound effect on my musical process, and I continue to be influenced by the ways literature can generate musical ideas and form – how literary images can inspire everything from the smallest melodic shape to a work's overall structure.

It's not surprising then that early on I would turn to an Italian composer and a poem about his musical experience to generate the musical ideas and form of Tartini. Charles Burney's 1773 account about how the devil supposedly appears to Tartini in a dream has become legend. Tartini handed the devil his violin and was astonished when he heard him play "with consummate skill, a sonata of such exquisite beauty as surpassed the boldest flights of my imagination. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted; my breath failed me, and I awoke. Seizing my violin I tried to reproduce the sounds I had heard. But in vain. The piece I then composed, the "Devil's Trill" Sonata, although the best I ever wrote, how far was it below the one I had heard in my dreams!"

I was inspired by a poetic adaptation of that legend by my friend, Lois Drapin, in her poem, "Tartini Dreams Trillo del Diavolo" (1972):
The night Tartini slept, he woke the Devil.
The creature came to him, unchained and crazed.
The rabid dog strikes first at his own master.
The creature came to him whose flesh he craved
And stood before him freed from his horsehair grave.

And Tartini screamed the scream that loosed his soul
His body twisting with his night-hawk call.
© 1972 by Lois Drapin; used by permission.

"Mr. Biscardi's 31-year-old Tartini, for violin and piano, is quite a showpiece, mingling boogie-woogie rhythms with virtuoso atonality, but still finding room for bittersweet lyricism. It was stunningly played by Maria Schleuning [of Voices of Change], who's a fabulous violinist, and Mr. Bray."
Scott Cantrell, The Dallas Morning News (2003)

"A set of three contrasting works by Chester Biscardi, head of the music department at Sarah Lawrence College, displayed Biscardi at three phases of his career. Tartini for Violin and Piano, a 1972 tribute to the 18th-century violin virtuoso and composer Giuseppe Tartini, showed Biscardi on the verge of breaking away from the strictures of midcentury academic serialism."
Wayne Lee Gay, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (2003)

Tartini is a work that straddles Biscardi's emergence from the strictures of academia over thirty years ago to the assertion of his own voice as a composer. Although he acknowledges that Tartini employs a twelve-tone row constructed from melodies in the Baroque original, he says the row is 'loose.' "It's the only twelve-tone piece I composed," he says. "I guess you could think of it as my response to the academic serialist bent that was so prevalent in the early 1970s." It was written for Tom Moore, a member of the famed Pro Arte Quartet (founded by Rudolf Kolisch and for whom Schoenberg and Bartok wrote their fourth string quartets) in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The published note in the score indicates that the fast-slow-fast, one-movement structure is a miniature representation of the original, three-movement sonata. Biscardi adds, "I'm Italian! My music tends to be lyrical, romantic and dramatic - that's what comes through in Tartini."
Laurie Shulman © 2003

Like many composers of his generation, Biscardi's music starts off spikier than it has become, and Tartini (for violin and piano) is no exception, though there's an exciting theatricality about its rhetoric.
Robert Carl, Fanfare: The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors (January 2012)

Tartini (1972), the earliest piece on the program, refers to older music as well. This short violin and piano piece is inspired by Charles Burney's account of the Devil's Trill Sonata, its material transformed into a short serial fantasy, with references from Schoenberg (the Phantasy) and Charles Wuorinen. It makes for a clever graduate student exercise.
Allen Gimbel, American Record Guide (November/December 2011)

Though it would be difficult for all but the non-specialist listener to tell, Tartini, for violin and piano, makes use of a twelve-tone row constructed from Giuseppe Tartini's so-called "Devil's Trill" Sonata, as well as melodic fragments and techniques from the same. What Tartini would make of the result is anyone's guess, but Biscardi himself describes it as "the first significant work that I wrote as an adult." Like much of Biscardi's music, Tartini is often restrained, contrasted here with bursts of violinistic virtuosity. Though it flirts moodily with atonality, overall the effect is agreeably euphonious, though perhaps too brief to be compelling.
Byzantion, MusicWeb International Classical Reviews (September 11, 2011)

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